Introduction to Trade Unions


Trade unions are associations of workers or organization formed together by labour, workers or employees to achieve their demands for better conditions at their work atmosphere. In the United States, trade unions go by the name labor unions. A labor union, or trade union, is an organization of workers who have joined together to achieve goals in areas such as wages and working conditions. The union negotiates contracts and conditions with employers, keeping employee satisfaction high and protecting workers from unsafe or unfair working conditions.

These unions exist to deal with problems faced by laborers, these problems maybe of any nature such as those concerning the pay, unfair work rules, timings and so on. All the workers working under one particular employer is represented by the worker's union. All the communication that happens in between the employer and the workforce generally takes place through the union. All of the above trade unions are also liable and responsible for maintaining discipline and among the workers, core purpose is to see that proper relations or being maintained in between management and workers and trade union may take disciplinary action against the workers who ever misbehaves, disturbed peace and harmony in the workplace and maintenance indiscipline.

Trade unions or labour unions are governed by the different law in different countries, they should follow the procedure and mode of registration for formation of the trade union according to the law of the country. Trade union formed in accordance with the law of their country shall have the privileges given by the law of trade union.With privileges or rights of the trade union, it should perform certain duties with respect to workers. The Primary purpose of a trade union is collective bargaining. In India trade unions can be formed only the persons engaged in trade or business can form trade unions.

Every registered trade union according to the law of trade union shall have certain functions for achievement of certain objectives which are mentioned in details further. The primary object you of the trade union is to protect the interests of the workers and exploitation against him by Management or employer. In addition to this, it is the responsibility and duty of every trade union to support management for its functioning and contribute to organisation or company by way of encouraging workers in a positive way for the improvement of overall efficiency of organisation.

India
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Trade union Act 1926,  Section 2(h) defines “Trade Union” means any combination, whether temporary or permanent, formed primarily for the purpose of regulating the relations between workmen and employers or between workmen and workmen, or between employers and employers, or for imposing restrictive conditions on the conduct of any trade or business, and includes any federation of two or more Trade Unions:

Provided that this Act shall not affect—

(i) any agreement between partners as to their own business;
(ii) any agreement between an employer and those employed by him as to such employment; or
(iii) any agreement in consideration of the sale of the goodwill of a business or of instruction in any profession, trade or handicraft.

USA
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In U.S Labor union leader Peter J. McGuire initiated the first Labor Day celebration on September 5, 1882 in New York City. The first governmental recognition of Labor Day came through municipal ordinances passed in 1885. By 1894, 28 states had recognized Labor Day as a holiday. President Grover Cleveland signed a bill making Labor Day an official national holiday in 1894.
The Employment Standards Administration (ESA) is the largest agency within the U.S. Department of Labor. The ESA enforces and administers a wide array of employment and labor laws, such as wages and working conditions, child labor, overtime and family and medical leave, equal employment opportunity, workers' compensation, labor unions, and employment standards and practices.

Right to Work laws secure the right of employees to decide for themselves whether or not to join or financially support a union. Before passage of right to work laws as part of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, an employee opting for non-union status could be fired even if the employee did not violate any of the employer's rules. There are currently twenty-two states with right to work provisions.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 12% of U.S. workers are union members, down from a high of nearly 20% in 1983. The states with the highest rates of union membership were New York, Hawaii, Alaska, Michigan and New Jersey. The lowest rates of union membership were recorded in South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas, Virginia and Utah.


Formative Stages of Trade Unions

Trade Union has to pass through a very difficult and hostile period in the initial years. The employers wanted to crush them with iron hands. Then came the period of agitation and occasional acceptance. When the union gained strength they started confronting with the employer. This is period of struggle which continued for long. Employers were forced to accommodate, tolerate and hesitatingly accept them. Then came the period of understanding and industry in collective bargaining. This was followed by fraternal stage where union became matured and employers started consulting them. The desired state is the “Fusion Stage” in which joint efforts were required to be made for union management co-operation and partnership.


Definition of Trade Unions

According to Webbs, a trade union is a continuous association of wage earners for the purpose of maintaining and improving the conditions of their working lives. Under the Trade Union Act of 1926, the term is defined as “any combination, whether temporary or permanent, formed primarily for the purpose of regulating the relations between workers and employers, or for imposing restrictive conditions on the condition of any trade or business and includes any federation of two or more unions”. Let us examine the definition in parts.
  • Trade union is an association either of employees or employers or of independent workers.
  • It is a relatively permanent formation of workers. It is not a temporary or casual combination of workers.
  • It is formed for securing certain economic (like better wages, better working and living conditions), social (such as educational, recreational, medical, respect for individual) benefits to members. Collective strength offers a sort of insurance cover to members to fight against irrational, arbitrary and illegal actions of employers. Members can share their feelings, exchange notes and fight the employer quite effectively whenever he goes off the track.

A more recent and non-legislative definition of a union is “an organisation of workers acting collectively who seek to protect and promote their mutual interests through collective bargaining” (De Cenzo & Robbins, 1993).


There are three forms of trade unions:

  • Classical: A trade union’s main objective is to collectively protect the interests of its members in given socio-economic-political system. Trade Unions are the expressions of the needs, aspirations and wishes of the working class.
  • Neo-classical: It goes beyond classical objectives and tries to improve up other wider issues like tax-reliefs, raising saving rates etc.
  • Revolutionary: Change in the system. Establishing the rule of working class even through violence and use of force etc.